The biggest trick Adam Sandler ever pulled was getting major Hollywood studios to fund vacation trips for him and his professional family to Hawaii (50 first dates), Africa (Mixture), rural Massachusetts (The adults) and the 80s (The wedding singer) under the guise of “cinema”, often without any proof of script.
It turns out that the Adam Sandler Method was also the perfect setting for the COVID-19 filming. Take a content set of actors, preferably with some familiarity with each other and / or with the creative team. Descend to an equally confined area, preferably one where people are happy to be quarantined for a few months. Pray that by keeping the circle of trust small, the chances of contamination are also low.
Nine Perfect Strangers
The bottom line
‘The White Lotus’ without a satirical edge.
The latest TV production using the Adam Sandler method, right down to the half-baked film script, is Hulu’s Nine Perfect Strangers, who transported a dazzling group of prominent stars to isolation in Australia for what appears to have been a beautiful journey of scenic views and over-the-top self-help emotions.
The cast of Nine Perfect Strangers is too good for the limited series to one day be impossible to watch. But after seeing six of the eight hour-long episodes, I’m pretty sure the bigger mystery has nothing to do with any of the damaged characters; this is if anyone realized that, due to bad timing, the thematically anemic show would inevitably be reduced to White lotus for dummies.
Adapted by David E. Kelley and John Henry Butterworth from the 2018 novel by Liane Moriarty, Nine Perfect Strangers begins with nine people heading to a Northern California wellness retreat dubbed Tranquillum House. That they’re not perfect – every guest has some form of trauma or deep unease that they’re going through – is a low-level irony, but they’re not really all strangers, either. There are the Marconis – Napoleon (Michael Shannon) and Heather (Asher Keddie) and her daughter Zoe (Grace Van Patten) – at Tranquillum to overcome grief. Jessica (Samara Weaving) and Ben (Melvin Gregg) are hoping for last-minute marriage counseling.
Then there are the True Strangers, bestselling author Frances (Melissa McCarthy), plus cranky Tony (Bobby Cannavale), erratic Carmel (Regina Hall) and squirrel Lars (Luke Evans), whose identities professionals are treated here as twists and turns, even if they ‘not.
Tranquillum is dedicated to fundamental change and an assortment of experimental therapies somewhere between a summer camp (potato sack races), a mental hospital on a Ryan Murphy’s show (a so-called “protocol” that I won’t spoil) and various New Age-y hokum (digging your own grave). The process is overseen by advisers, including Manny Jacinto’s Yao and Tiffany Boone’s Delilah, under the constant watch (watch, really) of Masha (Nicole Kidman), who boasts of her own rebirth story.
There’s a lot that is treated as twists and turns but isn’t, pointing to a narrative structure that’s more of a mathematical equation – a 10-day retreat for nine strangers told in eight episodes – than the mystery of the living room of Agatha Christie style that you might be craving for. The show just doesn’t know what it wants you to invest in, or why. Surely it’s not in the threatening text messages Masha receives, nor in seeing which characters get the healing they need, as these are mostly secret composites with no emotional hooks other than the affection you feel. have for the actors entering. Beyond that, the stakes from episode to episode include “What are the guests having for breakfast?” And “Who’s hallucinating now?” There is no suspense or visceral load to all of this.
The collaboration between Kelley and series director Jonathan Levine (Long Shot) makes sense, as both are capable of switching between drama and comedy. But in this case, the partnership is unfortunate, as the two are equally capable of not necessarily maintaining clear control over this tonal balance. The show’s approach to modern self-improvement, well-being, and condition leans more towards the comedic side of the ledger in a way that also pokes fun at ridiculous and legitimate remedies, without offering much to offer. insight into real human behavior. Addiction – drugs, social media, etc. – the impostor syndrome with the complicated nuances of mourning, people in Nine Perfect Strangers deal with real stuff in a way that lacks seriousness at all, much less of the satirical edge.
It doesn’t help that the performances seem to come from at least half a dozen different shows. It is as if the characters were invited to a murder mystery dinner, and instead of receiving pieces of paper telling them if they are the killer, they each received a note saying either “Drama” or “Comedy” and asked them not to tell someone else what they were doing.
Your preferred performances will likely be determined by who operates on the wavelength on which you would like the rest of the show to air. The weaving, quickly building a resume over comedic timing that allows it to combine broad expressiveness with razor-sharp precision delivery, was probably my favorite. This is mainly because she, like the unusually relaxed Evans, would be perfectly at home in the really sharp satirical world of The white lotus, which asks viewers to judge the characters and then forces us to reevaluate rather than informing us up front that no one is who they appear to be.
McCarthy and Cannavale are straight out of the kind of indie romantic comedy that would open or close Sundance not because it’s good but because it has stars. The Marconi family is inundated with internal actor conflicts: Shannon plays his torment and eccentricity on the outside – thanks to karaoke he’s practically in a musical – while Van Patten’s solid sub-action often gets lost completely. . Hall assaults like she’s in a sitcom, and Jacinto aims for a calm, muscular level of Zen that reminds you he’s not on a sitcom anymore.
No one does more than Kidman. I have a hunch that most truly enigmatic people don’t see themselves as enigmatic, but every choice Kidman makes – from blissful smiles to a Russian accent best described as “casual” – is visible and bordering on the idiocy. After the second season of Big little lies then The defeat, we feel that Kelley is determined to give Kidman things that are interesting for the actor, but not always coherent parts.
Levine shoots Kidman in a perpetual hazy glow – a choice to accentuate his angelic or otherworldly qualities that is one of the few clear visual motifs that the director, not exactly known for his distinctive aesthetic, imposes here. It also treats the rituals of the morning smoothie / buffet with preparatory brutality – pulverized fruit, crushed ice, simmering oatmeal – reminiscent of the Dexter opening credits rather than an attempt to take a clever point of human psychology or a juxtaposition with the otherwise pastoral setting. Thanks to the occasional waterfall, green field and architecturally interesting interior, Nine Perfect Strangers hardly avoids feeling like a bloated play. Barely.
With two never-before-seen episodes, Masha could yet reveal himself as an alien, a robot, or a sincere medical professional. The only reason I’m curious to stay and find out is to see if the finale justifies why so many talent wanted to be a part of this series. Maybe a paid vacation in uncertain times was enough of a lure, and Adam Sandler had been right from the start.